With a little ‘sweat equity,’ 19 families build own dream homes

The Brown family just moved into a new home that they helped build. From left to right, Teriane, Quiana and Briana stand outside their home on Boutte Estates Drive.

Since 2007, 19 families in St. Charles Parish have taken advantage of a Family Resources of New Orleans program that allows them to build their own homes and qualify for a subsidized loan that leaves them paying only $400 to $500 a month.

The program, called the Rural Development Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, gives eligible families the opportunity to work together, usually in groups of four, to build their own homes. To be eligible for the program, the families must have a credit score of at least 640 and can have an income level as low as $11,000.

And these aren’t small homes either.

They all have three bedrooms, two bathrooms and are around 1,500 square feet. The homes share a similar floor plan, but all have unique exteriors. The market value for the homes is close to $150,000, though it usually cost the families around $118,000. Of that total, $90,000 to $95,000 is construction costs with the remainder going towards purchase of the land.

Family Resources helped the families cut the ribbons on eight new homes last week in the 169 block of Boutte Estates. So far, 16 new homes have been built in that area.
Quiana Brown, a single mother with two daughters, was one of the new homeowners.

“I don’t think I could have ever bought a new home without this program,” she said. “I never thought I would be a homeowner.”

Brown said that Family Resources of New Orleans helped her rebuild her credit so that she would be able to qualify for a 1 percent interest loan though the USDA that helped her with construction and lot costs. With the subsidized loan, most families will end up paying only $400 to $500 a month for their homes.

“Once I got the loan, I got to go to the store and pick out tiles and flooring. That was the fun part,” Brown said. “Then I got to pick my own workers, as long as they had a state license, and we got to work.”

The families work alongside the contractors and are required to contribute 35 hours of labor each week to the construction of their and their neighbor’s homes. This process, called “sweat equity,” allows the families to save on building supplies and negotiate better construction rates with subcontractors.

That means that construction costs are kept below $70 per square foot. The labor that each family puts into the homes also saves around $15,000.

“It took close to five months to build my home and we worked with our neighbors to help them build their homes,” Brown said. “It was a really great process.”

And Brown’s entire family contributed, including her two daughters, who each helped paint their rooms.

“I really want to thank my parents and my entire family,” Brown said. “I went through a lot of trials and tribulations, but  the end result was my blessing.
“This home is my blessing.”

In addition to the 16 homes in Boutte, the program helped one family rebuild a home on Paul Maillard that was damaged in Hurricane Gustav and has also led to the construction of two new homes in Killona.

Paula Pete, the executive director of Family Resources of New Orleans, said that the goal of the program is to allow residents to remain in St. Charles.

“There is a huge shortage of affordable housing in St. Charles Parish and we don’t want families to have to leave the area to find a new home because some of them have worked at the plants for over 20 years and they want to stay in the area,” she said. “This program is rebuilding those neighborhoods.”


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